Physios gain funding for Northern Ireland cancer rehab pilot

Two physiotherapists in Northern Ireland have secured funding for a pilot service aimed at improving access to musculoskeletal (MSK) rehab for cancer patients.


Left to right: Ruth Flemming, Action Cancer service development manager; specialist physios Grainne Donnelly and Helen Mc Elroy; and Gareth Kirk, Action Cancer chief executive

Specialist physios in cancer rehabilitation Grainne Donnelly and Helen Mc Elroy have gained funding for a one-year pilot from UK charity Action Cancer.

Starting in May this year, the service will treat people who have MSK issues related to a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

The not-for-profit service, called Spark Cancer Rehabilitation, will be available at two private clinics in County Armagh and County Fermanagh.

Mrs Donnelly told Frontline: ‘The service is provided at our private clinics, but patients can access it for free.

‘We pushed to do the pilot at our own clinic sites, rather than in Belfast, because we wanted to offer it in rural areas where patients find it difficult to access services.’

Rehab for cancer patients

Both the physios have completed post-graduate training in cancer rehabilitation, including qualifications from the Pinc and Steel Cancer Rehabilitation Trust

During the pilot they will be offering rehab, group exercise and one-to-one physiotherapy to people aged over 16 with a cancer diagnosis at any stage of their treatment or recovery.

‘They may have range of movement or joint restrictions as a result of cancer surgery, or an MSK issue that has come about due to radiotherapy or chemotherapy,’ said Mrs Donnelly.

‘We now know that these treatments have an effect on people’s tissues and predispose them to some MSK issues. But a lot of these patients end up on long waiting lists for normal outpatient services at hospital – so that’s where we come in.’

Regaining their Spark

The service’s name includes the word ‘Spark’ partly because the physios want to help cancer patients ‘get their spark back’. It forms an acronym for

  • S - Support in the community 
  • P - Physio-led service 
  • A - Active Lifestyle promotion
  • R - Rehabilitation 
  • K - Knowledge

Mrs Donnelly said: ‘There is growing evidence that cancer patients should remain active at all stages of their journey, even during treatment. So we will be promoting independence, dealing with issues of fatigue and helping them back into activity.’

An audit of the pilot service will be analysed in March 2018. Positive results could secure permanent funding and enable the service to be rolled out across Northern Ireland.

Author: Robert Millett

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